When it was announced at the beginning of the year that Arsenal, along with the other 19 Premier League clubs, would receive an extra £40-50m in TV revenue, we all welcomed the news with open arms.
More money to spend on players, we thought. Less reason for Arsene Wenger to be reluctant to blow all of his savings on one player when his piggy bank is fuller than ever, we said. There didn’t seem to be much to be worried about.
But as we progress further into this summer’s transfer window, there are worrying trends developing that threaten to leave Arsenal in no man’s land. It’s not the amount of money that is being spent that is the problem, it’s how it is being spent that is the issue.
Two weeks ago, I wrote this:
‘Once the Euros are over, the transfer market is going to go into hyperdrive, and Arsenal may find themselves unable to match the fees being paid by others.
We can offer Henrikh Mkhitaryan £140k a week, the same as what we’re paying Özil and Alexis, but if Manchester United offer £200k a week, we’re stuffed. If Chelsea offer £50m for Morata, we’re screwed.’
Today, this happened:
Jordon Ibe has been given permission to hold talks with Bournemouth. A fee of £15million has been agreed between the clubs. #LFC
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceEcho) July 7, 2016
There are two strata of transfer deals that are occurring; the first is that big clubs are spending big money to get big names, whilst the second is everyone else overpaying on young talent in the hope that it proves to be a bargain in a few years time.
Manchester United are the prime examples of the first case, paying huge wages to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkytariyan whilst trying to arrange similarly large deals for Blaise Matuidi and Paul Pogba. They have the resources to do this, Arsenal don’t.
Arsenal were able to afford two ‘big’ transfers this summer, and have already used up one of those to get Granit Xhaka. Xhaka looks like a great player, but there were positions that needed upgrading ahead of centre midfield, such as at striker for example.
The second strata is illustrated by the Ibe deal. £15m for a 20-year-old without a single international cap is a big gamble, but it’s one that Bournemouth can afford to take. Crystal Palace can afford a similar fee for Andros Townsend. Younger players are now more willing to play for ‘smaller’ Premier League teams because the wages they can now be offered is so much greater than before.
The problem for Arsenal here, is that they have an abundance of English talent that may be unsellable. Kieran Gibbs, Carl Jenkinson and Jack Wilshere all have injury concerns. Theo Walcott will want a team to match his £140k a week wages. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the only one that will look like an attractive option, but would Arsenal accept £15m for him? No.
Arsenal might be caught in a situation where even though they have more money to spend than ever before, they can’t afford to buy the players that they want, and they can’t sell any of their own players in order to raise additional funds.
That sounds like a complete and total clusterf*** on the part of Arsenal’s management, not being able to foresee such a development, but they’re not the only ones who failed to see how extra TV money can lead to unforeseen problems in the player market. Over in America, the NBA is going through the same problems, but magnified.
Last year, the NBA sold its TV rights for almost double the previous amount, $24 billion for nine years. Unlike in football, all 30 NBA teams have a limit on how much they can spend on paying players. It’s there so that you can’t just sign the best five players in the world to your team unless they all take a huge discount, which never happens.
Last season, the salary cap was $70m. Usually, the cap goes up by about $1m-2m, taking into account factors like inflation and new sponsors. But because of the new TV deal, the cap will be $94m for this season, a gigantic leap. Everyone assumed that those players who were out of contract would take huge deals at new teams, and that the superstar players would take short-term deals at their current teams so that they could cash in at a later date.
But that didn’t happen.
Kevin Durant, who was the best player in the league in 2014, left the Oklahoma City Thunder. He had been there since the team moved from Seattle in 2008. He was an icon in the city, the personification of the Thunder franchise. The Thunder had a great team, only losing 4-3 in the semi-finals of the championship to the Golden State Warriors, a team that went a record 73-9 in the regular season and barely lost in the finals.
But he left, and to the stunned amazement of the NBA world, he joined the Warriors. No team in NBA history has had the MVP (Most Valuable Player) from consecutive years on their roster, until now. This is on the level of Cristiano Ronaldo leaving Real Madrid on a free transfer and signing for Barcelona, it’s that stunning.
And it was only possible because of the new TV deal that the NBA signed, a deal that has made all their attempts to create parity across the league moot, because a team suddenly became able to pay more than one superstar at the same time.
Nobody thought Durant would leave Oklahoma, but he did. Nobody thought West Ham would be able to bid £40m for Alexandre Lacazette, but they did. It is all unexplored territory from here on in, we can only hope that Arsenal figure out a way of making it through in one piece.